Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 8
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
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Music/Theater

BLIND DATE BLUES: Andrew (Max Rosmarin) and Waverly (Taylor Mallory), on September 12, 2001, struggle to make sense of a new world and to bridge the gap that divides them in Theatre Intime’s production of Craig Wright’s “Recent Tragic Events,” playing for one more weekend at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus.

Intime Stages “Recent Tragic Events,” Set on Day After 9/11: Philosophy, Despair, Surprises and Humor — on a Blind Date

—Donald Gilpin

It’s September 12, 2001, the day after the World Trade Center tragedy. Andrew arrives at Waverly’s apartment for a blind date. Andrew (Max Rosmarin) and Waverly (Taylor Mallory) are both in their early 30s, Minneapolis residents. She works in an ad agency. He runs a book store at the airport.

He is painfully shy, and she is anxious, emotional, and intimidatingly beautiful. Waverly is awaiting news about her twin sister Wendy, who lives in New York City, attends the Fashion Institute of Technology, and has not been in touch since before the bombing.

Wendy’s anxiety rises when Andrew imparts the astonishing, coincidental information that he, on a recent trip to New York, happened to meet Wendy and has reason to believe that she had just taken a job with a new fashion magazine whose offices were in the World Trade Center.

The blind date proceeds awkwardly, punctuated by tense phone calls between Waverly and her mother and an extended visit from Ron (J.T. Glaze), the hip, wild, philosophizing musician neighbor from down the hall.

This may seem like slim plot material to sustain the two hours running time of Craig Wright’s 2003 Off-Broadway tragicomedy Recent Tragic Events, currently playing at Theatre Intime’s Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus, but Mr. Wright, a scriptwriter for the successful TV series “Six Feet Under,” “Lost,” and “Brothers and Sisters,” seasons this stew with an array of spices.

Theatre Intime’s production of Craig Wright’s “Recent Tragic Events” will play one more weekend, with performances Thursday and Friday, February 24 and 25, at 8 p.m., and Saturday February 26 at 2 and 8 p.m., at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Call 609-258-1742 or visit www.princeton.edu/utickets for tickets or further information.

The second act brings in an unexpected visit from Waverly’s great aunt Joyce Carol Oates, played by a sock puppet. Also appearing is Ron’s completely silent, pizza-devouring girlfriend Nancy (Olivia Nice), clad in nothing more than her Jimi Hendrix t-shirt. A series of drinking games ensue, deftly choreographed and executed, followed by intense philosophical discussion, led by the Joyce Carol Oates puppet, on fate and free will in the aftermath of 9/11.

And to provide this unusual evening with yet another spin or two — in the spirit of the meta-theatrics of Luigi Pirandello, the co-stage manager, Elizabeth Wagner, appears at the start of the play, bringing up an audience member to flip a coin that determines certain variables in dialogue and plot signaled by the sound of a tone. After intermission she ratchets up the intellectual tease when she declares that her earlier information was all a lie. There were no options, no variables, she explains, just following the script. She reminds us that all these characters, like ourselves, will never be free. Ms. Wagner appears again in the final moments of the play to call the last cues, as the characters obediently, unknowingly follow her commands.

Mr. Wright’s concept is ambitious and promising. His various gambits are clever and interesting. The youthful Intime undergraduate company, under the direction of Princeton University sophomore Sarah Hedgecock, is capable and intelligently, carefully rehearsed. But the whole does not add up to the sum of its parts.

The core of the play, the awkwardly developing relationship between Andrew and Waverly, is less than fully engaging, and the humor is uneven — more sitcom than substance.

Mr. Rosmarin and Ms. Mallory create two likeable characters. It is not difficult to relate to their inevitable blind-date nervousness, along with her apprehension about her twin sister and his unease at being strangely involved with both of the sisters and also, it turns out, with Wendy’s decision to work at the World Trade Center. It is also not difficult to hope that the “wishy washy” Andrew and the emotional Waverly will work their way through the current situation, their personal inhibitions, and the intrusive interjections of neighbor Ron to establish a romantic bond. Beyond a certain point, however, watching this relationship develop is too much like a bad blind date. The slow pace, the awkwardness, and the lack of character depth make it difficult to care about this potentially romantic couple.

Mr. Glaze’s Ron does inject a dose of adrenaline into the proceedings. With his sandals, dirty t-shirt, and unrelentingly hip patter, he effectively embodies a familiar type. “Do what you gotta do” and pseudo-profound discussion of psychic energies pepper his dialogue: “… and the synergy is just like freaky, to the point where I’m at a place right now where I’m ready to go to a whole ’nother level, you know what I’m saying? In terms of synergy?”

Ms. Nice’s Nancy, in total silence except for one parting line of dialogue, nonetheless presents an interesting, distinctive character. Ms. Nice also handles the sock puppet character of Joyce Carol Oates with skill and humor. The Ms. Oates sock puppet as the voice of wisdom and argument for mankind’s free will is a brilliantly clever, humorous, and ironic device, though it too eventually wears thin here.

The unit set depicting Waverly’s apartment is simply and functionally rendered by designer Aryeh Stein-Azen, with lighting and sound by Ariceli Alfaro, though a large (albeit important) TV set on downstage right does obstruct sightlines in a number of scenes.

One of the best moments of the evening occurs just before Ms. Oates’ arrival, as Andrew frantically delivers to Waverly, who hasn’t read any of her great aunt’s books, a two-minute crash course on the collected works of Joyce Carol Oates. It’s a hilarious mockery of literary pretensions and a light-hearted parody of Ms. Oates’ oeuvre. Though the evening does not live up to its full potential, there are many such points of engagement, humor, and interest — on the subjects of literature, 9/11, free will, and determinism in the modern world, twins, and human relationships.

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